Getting the Message Through. Hans Rosenström’s exhibition In Good Faith

Christine Langinauer

A large piece of wall mounted down, half blocking the entrance to a little room in the very back of the gallery. It almost seems to say, “under construction, do not enter.” Like so much of Hans Rosenström’s (b. 1978) art, In Good Faith demands the exhibition visitor to participate, to be present and first of all, to be alert. If you are not, you might miss it entirely.

Hans Rosenström: In Good Faith, 2013

The exhibition is made up of three works: In Good Faith (persona), the wall-piece; In Good Faith (repetition), a framed photography and In Good Faith (drifting), a loudspeaker paired with a microphone. The loudspeaker keeps playing a quote of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights over and over again. For each time the recording has incorporated a new layer to it: the microphone picks up not only the voice reading, but also every other sound present in the gallery space. The voice keeps changing, moving around in the room as a reaction to my movements. I feel the urge to participate, to leave my own mark in its soundscape, but every noise blended into the recording makes it harder and harder to understand. In Good Faith (drifting) is delicate and fragile. While it gives me a sense of power to control it, it makes sure to always keep a distance, to be out of reach. The repetition makes it suggestive; the small space makes it intimate.

For Rosentröm, In Good Faith (drifting) is about language that shapes and defines you as a system of communication and as a representation. It’s always imperfect, simplified, and not just shaping but also de facto restricting what we want to say and communicate.

As Rosentröm points out, language also forms the limitations for our laws, the rules that formulate our way of life. Where the language fails, the laws fail. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a milestone in formulating an universal declaration for human rights, the ground for many laws. However, the standardized and very general bureaucratic language of laws makes them difficult to be understood by and communicated to the common man.

The bureaucratic language of the speech is mixed with the presence of everyday life: a door slamming, a baby’s cry, and someone’s footsteps. For the next listener it might have picked up the rattling of my bag, perhaps even my breath as I try to lean forward to hear better. The listener with his or her own presence is part of making the statement a success or a failure. Perhaps In Good Faith (drifting) is the artist’s way of giving the declaration some personality and individuality, a chance for the listener to participate and come closer to the content. Perhaps it is an opportunity to be part of the message.

Hans Rosenström: In Good Faith (repetition), 2013

I turn to the picture on the wall. Rosentröm’s choice of word and repetition refers to the quality of its medium: by definition a photography can be reproduced, printed in an indefinite number, and it copies and repeats its motif almost perfectly. This is its strength in communication and what revolutionized mass media communication.

The work is also a reference to and perhaps some sort of repetition of Rosenström’s own recent work. In Good Faith (repetition) shows the stage at the Italian Culture Institute in Stockholm in a black-and-white photo. This is the very place where the Italian poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini recited his poems for the last time before being murdered back home in Italy in 1975. It was also the stage for Rosenström’s site-specific sound installation We’re all in, based on Pasolini’s last appearance, shown in 2012 as part of the Volumi contrastanti exhibition at the Institute.

The misplaced piece of the wall and the persona, together with the hole it left in the wall, is perhaps the representation of a person who has acted out in good faith, but found himself or herself betrayed or in a bewildering different outcome than expected? It also brings into mind Rosenström’s In Dependent Structures (2012), in which built architectural structures together with light and sound formed a skeleton-like building within the exhibition space. Like In Good Faith (persona) the wall structures have been revealed and show how weak they are, how easily they can be and have been penetrated.

Pasolini represents someone who tried to change the society with the tools available for him. Language, both written and in the context of cinema, and criticism of the Italian culture and society marked Pasolini’s work and made him a very disputed intellectual both home and abroad. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also aims to change the world, even though it is not controversial in the same way as Pasolini was. Thinking of today’s world, have we really gotten very far in terms of what the declaration from 1948 states? Would people want
Pasolini face the same resistance and faith as in 1975?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into being as an attempt to fight against the incredible horrors caused by the World War II. It was made in good faith, in the belief that the world and humankind could make a change for the better. Still, there are millions of people living in conditions totally denounced by the declaration and most of them have probably never even heard about the declaration. Even in today’s world defined by easy communication it seems hard to get the message through. But we still have to believe and act out in good faith. If we do not, what do we really have left? The many layers of sound, picture, time and space are all laid out in the gallery space to meet and interact with the ones who give them a chance to communicate, in good faith.

Hans Rosenström
In Good Faith
7.2.-10.3.2013 Galerie Anhava, Helsinki